Is there a Typical Homegrown Terrorist?
Terrorism is like a cancer of the soul of humanity. It is metastasizing everywhere. This year we have seen what terrorism has done in Syria creating the world’s greatest refugee crisis and now we have seen terrorism in San Bernardino and most recently in Orlando, Florida. What prompts an American citizen to succumb to ISIS ideology and to act out by killing innocent people. Perhaps it is not what we think.
Homegrown terrorism or domestic terrorism is commonly associated with violent acts committed by citizens or permanent residents of a state against their own people or property within that state without foreign influence in an effort to instill fear on a population or government as a tactic designed to advance political, religious, or ideological objectives. The definition of homegrown terrorism includes what is normally considered domestic terrorism. Since the September 11 attacks in the United States, and U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the term has often been applied to violence that is perpetrated against people or property by their own citizens or permanent residents of a state under jurisdiction of that state in order to promote political, religious, or ideological objectives. Domestic terrorists have identical, or nearly so, means of militarily and ideologically carrying on their fight without necessarily having a centralized command structure regardless of whether the source of inspiration is domestic, foreign, or transnational.
The Congressional Research Service report, American Jihadist Terrorism: Combatting a Complex Threat, describes homegrown terrorism as a “terrorist activity or plots perpetuated within the United States or abroad by American citizens, permanent legal residents, or visitors radicalized largely within the United States.”
Under the 2001 USA Patriot Act, domestic terrorism is defined as “activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or of any state; (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.”
We know that the Internet and social media have been used to radicalize and recruit Americans but is there a typical pattern found as to why an American-born person would become a jihadi? Peter Bergen, the national security analyst for CNN and author of “United States of Jihad” has spent two and a half years researching this. What he has found is that the more you look at each individual case, the more individual the case becomes. His research has shown that it is not about someone necessarily following a bin Ladenist ideology but more about one’s personal life and what may be lacking in it. Sometimes personal disappointments or inner conflicts drive someone’s behavior. Perhaps it is a need for recognition to fill a very empty life, or a need to belong somewhere or to something like a cause. And although horrific crimes are committed, mental illness is found to be lower than what is found in the general public. It takes quite a bit of planning to pull off a terrorist attack.
If anything, what you are really looking at is someone coming from the middle-class. They are not necessarily young hotheaded people that we might imagine them to be. On the contrary many are married, with kids, and in their late 20s. We have seen this with one of the attackers in the San Bernardino shooting who was 28, married, with a child. The male perpetrator had a job earning $70,000 a year. They were very much solidly part of the American middle class. So why did they turn to violence and kill 14 people just arbitrarily? It truly is a mystery which may never be explained. Perhaps we need to understand the nature of evil itself and even that would be difficult to understand no less predict when it would rear its ugly head.